Although it does not appear to be very significant from the street, this building occupies an important place in Cairo's history as a point of architectural and political transition. The last descendant of Salah al-Din to rule Egypt, al-Salih Nejm al-Din al-Ayyubi, died in 1249 defending the country against the Crusader attack led by Louis IX of France. Following his death, his wife, the famous Shagarat al-Dor, ruled for a brief time as queen and then as wife to Aybak, the first Mamluk ruler of Egypt.
This madrasa was the first in Cairo to have a liwan (a vaulted area) for more than one legal school. It was also the first to have a tomb attached. These two unique traits became standard features of a Mamluk madrasa. During Mamluk times, the madrasa of al-Salih was used by judges when hearing cases and issuing judgments. The street in front, the Bayn al-Qasrayn section of Shar'a al-Mu'iz, was used for meting out punishments to those deemed guilty. This was the city center
Above the madrasa's minaret sits a top in the shape of an incense burner, in Arabic known as a mabkhara. It is the only one of its kind remaining from the Ayyubid period (1171–1250). Beneath the minaret, very little remains of this structure—part of an arched liwan in the courtyard, and the fragments of another arch opposite that suggest something of its former scale and importance. Some details, like the keel arch recess on the minaret with shell-like ornamentation and the shallow relieving arch over the doorway, deserve notice.